I’ve been a good tenant for eleven years and now I’m about to be homeless, writes Donal O’Keeffe.
I’m about to be homeless.
I’m not trying to bandwagon what should be – and won’t be because of Fine Gael ideology – declared a national emergency. I’m not claiming to be as badly-off as the people we ignore on our streets every day. I’m not drawing an equivalence with all those families despairing in hotel rooms.
I have family and friends, and – hopefully – I won’t have to sleep rough. But still, come November, once my notice is up, I’ll be homeless.
Eleven years I’ve lived on my own in this apartment, overlooking Fermoy’s Blackwater. I’ve paid my rent and kept the stairs clean, but my landlord says the building is being sold, piece-by-piece. I take his word, although I do note his sudden interest in sprucing the place up.
I can’t find accommodation in the Avondhu region. The best place I’ve seen – and that wasn’t great – had an asking price over 150% more than I’m used to, and I can’t afford a jump so steep.
I’ve loved this place, for all of its Celtic Tiger shoddiness. Handles fall off doors, and wardrobes fall apart. The toilet flushes when I pour a bucket of water into it. One of the rings on the cooker works.
From this kitchen table I would Skype my sister’s family when they lived abroad. It was here that the Elmo doll my brother gave me as a joke would jump up behind me as I spoke with my little nephews over the internet and Elmo would play elaborate tricks on me, to the delight of two small boys half a world away.
To this day, although they are 9 and 13 now, they ask if Elmo is still mess-acting around the apartment. Their little sister – a baby back then – talks fondly of entirely-imagined memories of Elmo leaving lights on, or rearranging books on my shelves or just being a tiny red menace around this cramped, beloved flat.
Here I ironed a million shirts and painted a hundred pictures. This has been my life for over a decade.
How many meals did I cook here? How many books did I read? How many TV shows did I watch? How many records did I play?
When I moved in, John Kelly’s Mystery Train was derailed. Ironically, as I move out, Kelly is just back on the tracks.
How many times did I paint the walls? Though never spacious, I know it’s even smaller now for layers of white paint (I’m unimaginative and I like what light I can get).
For me, this has been the place I’ve written my best and worst pieces and everything in-between. Here at this kitchen table, usually with John Creedon playing songs on the radio behind me, I had the honour to wrestle, week-in, week-out, for two years with pieces for TheJournal.ie and for more than a year now for The Avondhu, coming up with opinion columns which were – hopefully – readable and even occasionally interesting.
Here too I have beaten and wrestled and been pummelled and pounded by features I have written for the Evening Echo and the Irish Examiner. Here, I’ve struggled to do justice to the stories entrusted to me by decent people, be they Cistercian nuns or sweet-makers or Gardai or librarians.
A home is hard to make and easy to undo. Much of what made this flat my home is already gone.
Most of my books are packed away. Dickens. Twain. Tennyson. Yeats. Conan Doyle. John B Keane. Banville. Black. Flann O’Brien. Ross O’Carroll-Kelly. John Kelly. Paraic O’Donnell. Tara Flynn. John Connolly. Liz Nugent. Mick Clifford. Peter Ames Carlin. Louise O’Neill. Colm Tobin. Colm Tóibín. Stephen King. Peter Straub.
The bookshelves look depressingly bare now. Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman are still there. My records and CDs still look at me. I’m not ready yet to pack away my oldest friends.
Soon, though. Soon.
I can’t find a place. There’s next to nothing on the market and what there is caters for couples and is way beyond my pocket. I’m panicking now.
On Friday, Focus Ireland reported that 99 families – including 214 children – became homeless in Dublin in July.
At least three people died homeless in Ireland last week.
It’s my niece’s seventh birthday. She has been bullying me to draw her ALL the Disney princesses for so long now that hopefully she’s forgotten. Once I finish painting her birthday card, that’ll be the last piece of art I produce here.
I’ve loved living here. This apartment was where I did my writing.
I will never write here again.
I will never look at the river, or the town, from this window again. I will never look out of a foggy winter night and see vague lights on the Tomas Kent Bridge and think I could be looking at any time since Joshua Hargrave built it in 1865.
This isn’t my home anymore and I don’t know where will be ever again.
There are many better people a lot worse off. There are 8,000 Irish people homeless right now, 3,000 of them children.
Winter is coming and I’m about to be homeless.
I guess at least I won’t be alone.